Buffalo, New York

The Fighting Legacy of Dr. Barnett Slepian

Report from the frontlines of the abortion war

Revolutionary Worker #981, November 8, 1998

October 23, Dr. Barnett Slepian, a 52-year-old obstetrician- gynecologist, was assassinated in his home in Amherst, New York. Dr. Slepian is the latest victim of an intense campaign to attack abortion providers and women's clinics. He is the seventh person killed by anti-abortion assassins, while nearly 20 people have been injured in anti-abortion shootings and bomb attacks.

Dr. Slepian had been targeted by anti-abortion protesters for over a decade and received over 200 death threats. With the strong support of his wife Lynn Slepian, he continued to provide women with important medical care and reproductive choice. In his home city of Buffalo, the second largest city in New York State, there have been only three other doctors providing abortion services. His work and his courage made a major contribution to the lives of many women, especially poor women, in this whole western New York region.

Mary Lou Greenberg, spokesperson for the New York Branch of the RCP wrote the following report from Buffalo on October 27, 1998:

I and other members of the Reproductive Freedom Taskforce of Refuse & Resist! arrived in Buffalo the day after Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered. We grabbed up the local newspapers and read the accounts of what had happened. An anti-abortion assassin with a high-powered rifle hid in the backyard and took aim as the doctor was in his kitchen with family members about 10 p.m. They had just returned from temple after an observance for his father who died a year before. The bullet crashed through the window and into the doctor's back.

Newspaper articles painted a picture of what kind of man Dr. Slepian was. He was fiercely committed to providing abortions, as part of offering all-around reproductive health care for women. An attorney and friend described his commitment in The Buffalo News and said he had talked with the doctor many times about the dangers he faced as an abortion provider. "He felt he had no choice but to expose himself to those risks because others were not willing to provide choice to women," the friend said.

Dr. Slepian had been heavily targeted over the years. He had received many death threats, and he and his family had been subjected to severe harassment. While he no longer did abortions at his clinic in Amherst, a Buffalo suburb (which had been one of the targets during Operation Rescue's efforts to close down Buffalo clinics in 1992), he did abortion procedures at the last remaining clinic in town, Buffalo Womenservices. Despite the threats and harassment, he was known for his continuing, outspoken support of women's right to choose.

He was one of only four doctors who did abortions in Buffalo and was the only provider who accepted Medicaid patients. He also provided full obstetrical and gynecological care for poor women in his Amherst clinic. The newspaper article was filled with quotes by women whose children were brought into the world by Dr. Slepian, including women with difficult pregnancies who had been aided and comforted by his medical skill and loving care. His murder will be felt personally and acutely by countless numbers of women and their families in Western New York--and his death is an incalculable loss for our movement as a whole....

Dr. Slepian's funeral service on Sunday, October 25 was attended by family members and many friends. As the funeral service was ending, a press conference was held at Amherst police headquarters. It was mobbed by media, hungry for news of any developments in the search for the killer. But the local and state police, along with the FBI, had absolutely nothing to report--despite the fact that similar sniper attacks on abortion providers in their homes have taken place during this time of year for the past four years in Canada and northern New York. Providers have been severely wounded in these past attacks, but Dr. Slepian was the first doctor killed in such assaults in this area

One new thing came out at the police press conference. They revealed that they had been alerted to the danger of possible attack by a fax sent to them by Dr. Slepian's wife six hours before the deadly shooting. This fax was an alert sent to abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada a few days earlier by the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of providers. The fax had called attention to the history of attacks at this time of year, the period around November 11 (Veterans Day in the U.S., Remembrance Day in Canada) and warned providers to take extra precautions.

When the media asked the police what they had done when they received this fax, the cops said, "Nothing," and tried to justify this by saying that Lynn Slepian had not requested any assistance! "Do you regret not doing anything?" the media asked. "No," was the answer, although the police chief added he regretted that the doctor had been killed.

If there is any one thing that demonstrates the absolute, deadly futility of any hope that the authorities will protect our clinics and providers, this should be it once and for all! It is another striking example of the cold truth that the masses of pro-choice people must rely on ourselves to protect and defend abortion providers, while we fight on many fronts to change the whole reactionary political climate that encourages and produces attacks like the assassination of Dr. Slepian.

Already this year, we have seen the bombing of the Birmingham abortion clinic, which killed a security guard and severely wounded a nurse, Emily Lyons. We have seen the vicious lynch-like killing of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, and the brutal beating and murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. And now, the cold-blooded, well-plotted murder of Dr. Slepian. It is truly, as R&R! says, "all one attack."...

In the wake of the great loss of Dr. Slepian, it would be a wonderful thing if doctors who do not now provide abortions would declare that they will learn to do them; if medical students in great numbers would come forward to learn how to do the procedure and demand that medical schools teach it; if people all over the country spoke out in the media to uphold the valuable work of providers and volunteered to assist their local clinics.

But much much more needs to be done if we are to change the situation where doctors are murdered just because they are providing a simple service for women. We call on everyone who is horrified at this murder to work with us in Refuse & Resist! Together we need to figure out how to develop a powerful national response to this murder and a movement capable of stopping attacks on clinics and doctors like Barnett Slepian.


Contact: Mary Lou Greenberg 212-969-0592; R&R! 212-713-5657; e-mail: refuse@calyx.com

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